Closing thoughts from outgoing councilmembers

rpulley@lsjournal.comApril 16, 2014 

The Lee’s Summit’s City Council is losing many years of experience with three departing members.

Councilman Ed Cockrell was first elected in 2002 and Councilwoman Kathy Hofmann in 2006, both continued to serve after re-elections, but now are leaving office because of term limits. Councilman Brian Whitley was elected in 2010 and served one term and decided not to file for another. The Journal asked them for their comments on their accomplishments or disappointments.

“One of the things I can honestly say, I worked hard to listen to people,” Hofmann said.

She said that while not all of her votes were popular, sometimes supporting commercial developments opposed by a neighborhood, she said she tried hard to balance the city’s overall needs with individual constituents.

She said she wished the council could have completed its work on Summit Place, instead of delaying it, adding that SummitWoods Crossing and Summit Fair had been important projects for bringing new tax revenue to the city, even if tax incentives were required. She predicted future development will require the city to continue to use incentives as tools to encourage projects.

Another opportunity she was sorry didn’t move forward was commuter rail in the Rock Island Railroad corridor.

She said the council during her terms had been successful communicating with voters on the importance of many bond issues, such as for storm water system improvements and recently U.S. 50 and Missouri 291.

“You have to have the people behind you,” she said.

The annexations of property from Unity and on east along U.S. 50 were important for the city’s progress, she said.

Hofmann said she valued the trips she made to National League of Cities conferences to meet other officials and gain from programs and different approaches in those communities, both the successes and failures.

She said before being elected, she’d been on the Lee’s Summit Arts Council that “was just a little council and met and spent a hour and a half arguing” and as a councilwoman supported the arts, seeing the Arts Council mature into a more effective group and voters approved bonds supporting the cultural arts plan. That is an important part of keeping Lee’s Summit a city where businesses want as a locate, she said.

She said she plans to take a couple of months off and “do nothing” but also will continue to be involved with the Chamber of Commerce and serve on community boards.

“I’ve met wonderful people, my constituents, had a great city staff to work with, and the Chamber and EDC and Downtown Main Street,” Hofmann said. “Even with my recall, that’s part of the risk you take as an elected official, it wouldn’t have stopped me from doing it again. The people showed they were behind me.”

Brian Whitley said he enjoyed his term.

Whitley said one of his contributions was “critical thinking” he brought to the council, asking tough questions of developers regarding incentives they sought or the impacts of their projects on neighborhoods.

He said wanted to know how projects were a benefit overall to the city but also look for ways to mitigate any negative impacts on close-by residents.

“Reducing the harm and maximizing the good,” he said.

He made an impact on redrawing council districts, an issue which had split the council, when he was assigned to lead an ad-hoc committee to bring the issue to “a soft landing” and keep it out of court. The boundary change moved Whitley out of District 2 into District 1. That plan required the fewest changes to other districts and got support from all but one council member, he said.

“I kind of fell on my own sword for that, but it was for the greater good,” Whitley said.

He decided not to run for re-election in his new district because he wanted to spend more time with his son and wife. He said his family recently decided to move to Parkville so he can cut commute times associated with his job, which is in downtown Kansas City and also requires a lot of travel and access to Kansas City International Airport.

He said he was proud of the roles he played in passing an ordinance to prohibit selling puppies in parking lots and for getting sidewalks added to Pryor Road.

Whitley said he was disappointed that the city didn’t go to a proposed a single-hauler trash system, because he thought it ultimately would save residents and the city money. But he said the council rejected the idea proposed by LS 360 because of residents who wanted to keep choice of who collected their trash.

He said he thought a email communication he developed for his district had helped inform residents about various issues, such as the proposed Enhanced Enterprise Zone, street improvements or snow removal, or topics which were more fun such as free events. About 850 people were on the distribution list.

“I think that was very successful, I had a lot of positive feedback on that,” Whitley said. He said he hoped that council members Allan Gray and Diane Forte would continue using the distribution list he established to communicate with constituents and that other council members would do so as well.

“It was a good experience,” Whitley said. “There are a lot of good, quality folks out there...You need to show you care about people. I hope I did that.”

Ed Cockrell, who served 12 years, said the city made noteworthy advancements passing bond issues and taxes for a new City Hall, downtown improvements and infrastructure during his terms.

“Anything I think was accomplished, that wasn’t an individual accomplishment,” Cockrell said. “For the first 10 years there was a core group that had a common vision for the city and a good understanding of the community values and vision, along with the city staff and city manager.”

He said there was one action where he took the lead for more open government for residents: in 2002 he championed reestablishing broadcasting City Council meetings on the government cable channel, and it was subsequently available for streaming from city website as well. He said that has been a success.

“Citizens may just accidentally come across it, but they’ll watch it for some time,” he said. Cockrell said he hopes that the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District will eventually follow the city’s lead, although it has been hesitant in the past.

Cockrell said he has some concern that during the past two years there’s been confusion about what role council members should play as policy setting leaders, instead of diving directly into management details.

“There’s been an ignoring of that role that’s been fairly serious as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “That has resulted in many disruptions.”

He also said he also fears that the council hasn’t yet grappled with the economic realities that Lee’s Summit (and the nation) haven’t returned to a growth cycle or recovered yet from the recession following 2008.

The city will have to look at its process for economic development and its outlook on incentives, and not be locked into the perspectives of high-growth years 15 or 20 years ago.

“It has to change, it has to advance, it has to come out of the past,” Cockrell said. “We have to consider what’s possible in today’s economic environment.”

Cockrell said for now he’ll take a few months to relax and to gain some perspective on the recent political battles, then he’ll be ready to re-engage and see where he might be of service in the future.

“Sometimes one needs to sit back and let things move forward without participating, to let things get put to rest and refresh themselves,” he said.

Cockrell said the city does have an important advantage in that its many interest groups, from small business owners, to the Chamber of Commerce, Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council, Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street Inc. and Lee’s Summit 360 come together to support bond issues or important community initiatives.

“Lee’s Summit has huge strength in its builders and decision makers,” Cockrell said. “That’s something one can really be proud of having been a part of...it gives one a sense of accomplishment for the whole group.”

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